It was a warm summer morning, and I had woken up with a burst of excitement when I remembered that issue #8 of James Robert’s Lost Light was at long last released. When I had read the cover, I saw a name I didn’t recognize credited as a story consultant: Rachel Stevens. I found that Ms. Stevens has dedicated a lot to the Transformers community, from helping canonize materials in the now ended segment called Ask Vector Prime, contributions to the main wiki, and offering her analysis that even impressed writers of the main ongoing comics.
Every time I read a piece by Ms. Stevens, I see a woman who has poured her passion into her writing, each word a reflection of true love she carries for the mediums she enjoys; words that have inspired me to become a writer and I’ve conducted this interview with the hope that others will be inspired by such a wonderful woman.
When did you get into Transformers? Do you feel your love of Asimov caused you to appreciate robotics more?
I got into Transformers multiple times, believe it or not! The first couple times were before I read Asimov in middle school. I started with random episodes of Beast Wars as a child and had McDonald’s toys of them. I followed Beast Machines and subsequent series more closely until Transformers: Energon hit and it wasn’t very good. I came back in around Transformers: Animated and then IDW’s excellent comics after that.
I would have been reading Asimov around Transformers: Cybertron, if memory serves me correctly; part of what got me into Transformers was actually Power Rangers, the animalian and vehicular zords turning into the giant mecha. Asimov helped me understand deeper concepts like identity, class systems, and so on. Part of what attracted me to Asimov was the mystery aspect of his work. I wanted to be a detective when I was younger because of Sherlock Holmes, so I loved Lije Bailey and Susan Calvin’s deductive processes and adventures. Thinking about it, a comparison that one of the Transformers cartoon writers springs to mind- the Transformers were like superheroes and supervillains, so as a fan of Power Rangers, as previously mentioned, and Marvel via reprints of the 60’s work from the essentials line, that was another aspect I loved.
As a woman within the Transformers fandom, how does it feel seeing more women joining the creative teams and fandom? You were among the biggest vouchers for femformers!
Ah, well honestly, it’s just something that should have been done long ago even before Windblade. We’ve been lucky to have several female colorists and artists even before then, it’s less something I’m joyous about and more relieved; and, frankly, I’m a veritable youngster among the fandom, I only ever added to the volume.
Now, many Transformers fans who read the “Lost Light” will recognize your name! How did it feel to be chosen to consult for a comic you love so much?
It was really nice, and I definitely wasn’t thinking about fame so much as it would help prove I know what I’m talking about. (laughs) I dunno how many folks will know my name for my contributions, and that’s okay. If what I did ends up helping people figure out things about themselves, or just see themselves represented in a story they love, then my job’s accomplished. People deserve to see themselves in stories and feel happy and safe to be themselves.
It helped that it was, in Lost Light’s case, about two trans lesbians, because I’m one myself, and I could consult directly based on my own experiences. Several of my suggestions as a consultant weren’t used, but that’s perfectly okay–either I’ll use them sometime down the road, or someone else will.
This is unrelated to Transformers, but what other books, comics, and hobbies do you enjoy?
I love listening to music—usually synthwave, thanks to Hotline Miami and Drive, but I also try to keep up with comics. I’m reading and adoring Gerard Way, Tamra Bonvillain, and Nick Derington’s Doom Patrol in addition to Lost Light. I don’t have the budget to keep up with other Transformers comics right now, so I use the TFwiki to keep up until I can catch up again.
I’ve also been a big fan of how outrageous and weird Warren Ellis can get when he doesn’t stick to his comfort zone. Injection with Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire is fun when they don’t just stick to cliches, I’ve been following the creative team since their Moon Knight run. Speaking of Gerard Way and music, I’ve been prone to relistening to the MCR [My Chemical Romance] albums Danger Days and Conventional Weapons when thinking about Doom Patrol, it feels like there’s a lot of feelings and themes expressed in both. The comic sequel to Danger Days in particular, written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon and drawn by Becky Cloonan, is the kind of comic I want to make: queer, punky, colorful, hopeful, weird.
Have you aspired to release your own content, Transformers or otherwise?
I’m currently editing Mike L. Lunsford’s Supernormal Step and his forthcoming story Speak of the Devil, and I definitely want to write more comics myself. I’m currently working with Colt Hoskins of Jawbreaker Comics on a solarpunk project based on dynamics of stories in big two superhero fiction. It’s not my first rodeo writing, I’ve written some stories that I have kicking around on Google docs, and I try to participate in role-playing games when possible to keep my storytelling muscles firm.
I’ve also written a story for Colt’s Wizard Killer universe that he’s planning on printing in a self-published book. I’d love to write and create more, I just participated in Wizard’s of the Coast third great designer search and made it to the second trial, but retail keeps a woman busy, I’d love to find work that lets me tell stories or help others do the same. Oh, right! I’ve also contributed names and ideas to Talen Lee of Invisible Ink, a self-publishing game designer.
Wizards of the Coast? For those not familiar do you mind explaining what that is? Speaking of such, you’re quite the fan of Magic: The Gathering! Do you enjoy tabletops, and other games such as D&D as well?
Ah, Wizard’s of the Coast is a subsidiary of Hasbro, they release tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. I don’t play D&D 5th Edition partly because I prefer 4th edition, and partly because a known harasser in the role-playing community contributed to it.
I do love tabletop games in general—I’ve had an eye on The Sprawl, Blades in the Dark by John Harper, and Lancer. Respectively, they’re a cyberpunk RPG that’s based on the apocalypse engine for roleplaying games, Blades in the Dark is a heist RPG in a haunted industrial revolution era city based on games like Thief and Dishonored and Lancer is a mecha RPG with influence from Battletech, Votoms, Mechawarrior, Gundam, and other classics of the genre. I can also see some influence from more recent stories like Titanfall with mechanics like mech jockeying.
As a creator, editor, and writer, what advice would you give other women who pursue in what you do?
Cut yourself slack when you’re having a hard time, but don’t give up. Find other creators to bounce ideas off of, find a hobby if you can help it, surround yourself with friends and people you trust. No one made it anywhere alone, and I wouldn’t be here talking to you if people hadn’t taken a chance on me. I’m not famous, I’m not well known, but I’ve been published in an academic journal and cited in at least two graduate theses because I put in work with the encouragement of others. Sometimes, it’s just luck of the draw, and you’re passed over for other people. That’s fine, so long as you’re here you have another chance. don’t expect to get anywhere overnight at the same time, be willing to speak up if you feel comfortable and safe to do so (I have a locked Twitter account right now, partly because of superhero fans). There have also been time periods where I spend days, weeks, months without writing or creating, only thinking about doing so because of depression. It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t write every day.
You are among the many women who’ll I say has inspired me to write. What women have you drawn inspiration from yourself that have helped mold you into the person you are today?
Janelle Monáe, easy. She took the concepts inherent to the robot story and advanced it in hip-hop opera form, singing of robots explicitly as allegories for the downtrodden, black women, queer people, the marginalized and broke.
Susan Stryker and Julia Serano were two of my first sources for the transgender history of America and media, albeit without as much emphasis on two-spirit culture. Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are incredible figures, as is Chelsea Manning (recent strategic misfires excepted).
I’d also like to thank my mom for trying to be supportive even when she didn’t understand, and the trans women I knew online before I came out that gave me the courage to admit to myself I was a young woman.